Penetration Testing: A Detailed guide

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Penetration testing includes a wide array of manual and automation techniques to mimic an attack that happens to an organization’s information security arrangements. It is performed by an independent and qualified penetration testing expert, sometimes known as an ethical security tester. Moreover, its objective is to exploit known vulnerabilities and also help in identifying specific weaknesses.   

In addition, it involves an active analysis of the target system for any possible risks that may arise as a result of inadequate or inappropriate system configuration, known and unknown hardware or software faults, and operational flaws in process or technical countermeasures. This analysis is usually done from the perspective of a potential attacker and can incorporate active exploitation of security loopholes.  

Besides, a Pen Test is used to access IT infrastructure, business applications, and networks to identify vulnerabilities, attack vectors, and manage weaknesses.   

Most Common Forms of Penetration Testing  

Penetration Testing has two most common forms, which are as follow:  

  • Application Penetration Testing  
  • Infrastructure Penetration Testing   

Application Penetration Testing 

Application Penetration Testing aims to find technical glitches or issues in web applications. It is the same as a pen test or penetration test, but it is useful to test the web app that has any threats or penetration attacks available.   

Additionally, there are two ways to work on Web application penetration testing – one is through manual testing, or another way is automated or test automation testing. However, the aim of both testing types is the same, which means both of them are convenient to identify any security flaws, vulnerabilities, or threats in a web application. In this testing, the role of the penetration tester is to fabricate/exhibit attacks and environments like an attacker, and the tester uses SQL injection tests to understand the potential malware.   

From web application to its components like source code, database, back-end network, the main goal of web application penetration testing is to find out security weaknesses and prioritize those threats and vulnerabilities that are necessary to fix them.   

Infrastructure Penetration Testing:   

Infrastructure Penetration Testing is another common form of Penetration Testing that one can consider to detect security flaws and vulnerabilities, if any present in your network. With this method or by performing Infrastructure Penetration Testing, one can assure that a business is free of cyber-attacks and breaches.   

Into the bargain, one of the significant reasons is to conduct Infrastructure Penetration Testing is to avoid cyber attackers to find weaknesses in your network. Because if your app’s infrastructure is full of errors, then an attacker can access your network and use it for personal benefits.   

Overall, you can understand this method is suitable to access both internal and external networks of any business. However, by leveraging the network penetration testing method, you can get a quick overview of your company’s security problems. Also, the expert can help you manage your company’s compliance requirements and have an eye on information security standards/policies and its response rate to cyber-attacks.   

Why Is It Necessary to Perform Penetration Testing?  

Here are some reasons that you can check to understand the significance of Penetration Testing:  

  • Penetration Testing helps you challenge the security of your apps and make it feasible for you to unveil crucial flaws. Due to increasing rates of cyberattacks, which will cost about $6 trillion annually by 2021, according to the Herjavec Group, one should take strong actions against cyber-attacks and control them with the assistance of Pen Testing because it allows you to keep your sensitive information secure and helps you implement solid security measures.   
  • With Penetration Testing, you can effortlessly comply with several security regulatory standards such as HIPAA, GDPR, and PCI DSS.   
  • On the other hand, you may know data security is the major concern for many organizations, and they want to keep their user’s data safe and secure. In this case, we can consider Pen Tests to help companies that want to meet their compliance standards and even empower them by explaining Penetration Testing Methodologies and Standards that are ideal for sealing the loopholes that attackers utilize to misuse the sensitive information of your users. Apart from this, by providing an effective Penetration Testing Solution for Compliance, we can give an assurance to customers and stakeholders that their data is 100% safe against future risks or attacks.   

What are the Advantages of Penetration Testing?   

  • Assists in the detection of vulnerabilities that would otherwise remain undetected  
  • Helps discover new risks via intruders or any potential attackers  
  • Helps detect vulnerabilities in real-time within online applications and systems  
  • Helps increase your marketing team’s productivity 
  • Assists in the detection of real-time threats and vulnerabilities within systems and online applications  
  • It helps check the effectiveness of web application firewalls  
  • Helps check the cyber-defense capability of the organization  
  • Helps detect potential security flaws within the system’s infrastructure, application, or network.   

What are the Limitations of Penetration Testing?   

Penetration Testing is sure to help you test some of your security arrangements and even allows you to make improvements in your application. Yet, it is not a solution for all problems. For instance, a Penetration Test  

  • Focuses on the target application, environment or specify infrastructure, 
  • Focuses on technical infrastructure vulnerabilities, so it is not compulsory that this testing will help you protect your organization’s sensitive or critical information.   
  • May not eliminate all security glitches due to inadequate testing or scope restrictions.  
  • Provides outcomes that are technical in nature but need interpretation in a business context. 
  • Can be limited by legal or commercial factors   
  • Limits the depth and breadth of a test. 

What are the Different Types of Penetration Testing?  

Four types of Penetration Testing are very common in the Software Testing Domain.   

  • Network Penetration Testing  
  • Physical Penetration Testing   
  • Web Application Penetration Testing  
  • Wireless Network Penetration Testing   

Network Penetration Testing   

Network Penetration Testing checks the system’s physical structure to discover risks in the network of the organization. Moreover, this type of testing performs in the organization’s network to find out weaknesses in the design, operation, or execution. Similarly, there can be various components of an organization such as modems, computers, and remote access devices that one can check with the assistance of testers to fix the possible vulnerabilities.  

Physical Penetration Testing   

Physical Penetration Testing is beneficial to simulate the threats in real-time. In this testing, pen testers act as cyber attackers, and they try to break the physical barrier of security. Furthermore, the idea of this testing is to check all physical controls like lockers, security cameras, sensors, and obstacles that include some sort of vulnerabilities.   

Web Application Penetration Testing   

As discussed above, Web Application Penetration Testing is the most common form of Pen Test, so it helps check weaknesses or vulnerabilities within web-based applications. With Web Pen Testing, you can check for security issues when you design or develop your app with poor coding practices. Besides, this type of testing is suitable for banking apps, online shopping websites, and other eCommerce websites which deal with online transactions.  

Wireless Network Penetration Testing   

Wireless Network Penetration Testing aids to verify the connection between all devices like computers, laptops, smartphones, or tablets that are working with the help of the organization’s Wi-Fi. To boot, it helps prevent any data loss that can happen when you share your data from one device to another through the Wi-Fi network.   

How Can Penetration Testing Prove to Be Beneficial?  

Pen Testing can prove to be beneficial due to the following reasons:  

  • Improvement in Management System: It helps you get a thorough understanding of security threats and lets you know the different categories of vulnerabilities, plus suggests which one is hazardous and which one is less vulnerable. Therefore, by acquiring the information of vulnerabilities, you can easy to manage your system and make it secure by leveraging necessary resources.   
  • Customer Protection: Even with a single customer’s data breach, you can experience huge financial loss and put your reputation at risk. Due to this, safeguarding your customers’ sensitive data is crucial either through Penetration Testing or by using other specific types of security tests, especially if it is the matter to keep the user’s data confidential and private.   
  • Avoid Penalties/Fines: Penetration Testing helps you get major updates and help your organization complies with the auditing system to avoid fines.   
  • Prevention from Financial Damage: The estimated cost of a data breach in 2021 is about $4.24 million. Therefore, it can protect your enterprise from such financial damages.   

When do I Need to Perform Pen Tests?   

Based on the type of industry, network technology, and the need for compliance regulations, one can perform penetration tests and meet the criteria of industry compliance standards. On the flip side, if you want to know at what stages one should perform pen tests, then you can check the given information.   

  • The network or infrastructure undergoes significant changes  
  • Any security patch is applied  
  • New applications are added  
  • New industry regulations need additional compliance  
  • An office is added to the network, or an office location changes  
  • An increase in media coverage could increase the risk of attacks  

Who can Conduct Pen Testing?   

The Pen Tester or the experts of the Software Testing Company can conduct Pen Testing. They can plan and build scenarios to detect potential loopholes within the system, web app, or IT infrastructure. They are also in charge of recording all findings and deliver the necessary records to staff members, clients, or the company. Additionally, they can carry out the testing process either manually or by using some of the most popular automation tools like Acunetix, Intruder, etc. Make sure these tools are using by the companies to test software (Operating System, Application, Services), Hardware, Network, Processes, and the behavior of end-users.  

 What Do I Need to Test in Penetration Testing? 

  
Remember, Penetration Testing is not the same as Functional Testing. Here, you need to identify security holes that your system has in hidden form. To understand, what to test in Penetration Testing, you can explore some generic test cases below:  
 

  • Recognize spam attacks on contact forms used on your web applications.   
  • Protect the Proxy Server from hackers because it contains the internal details of the network that can easy to hack externally.  
  • Many client emails come with in-built spam filters that you should customize as per your needs. And, the same rule can apply to subject lines, email headers, and body lines.   
  • Verify the incoming and outgoing email traffic and apply filters or block them if necessary.   
  • Keep the system’s firewall on and use it to protect your networks or computers.   
  • Try to fix issues from desktop systems, servers, network devices, and printers.   
  • Verify all telephone devices & Wi-Fi network security.  
  • The data/information stored in website cookies should not be in a readable format.  
  • Confirm that whether there is no open port available in the network.    
  • Make sure all usernames and passwords are based on encryption and transfer the information through secure connections like HTTPS.   
  • Verify previously found issues and fix them as soon as possible.   
  • The username should not be like “administrator” or “admin”.  
  • There should be at least 8 characters in your password, and it should include at least one number and special character.   
  • Test the login page and keep it safe by using the lock feature when anyone attempts unsuccessful login.   
  • Keep the error messages generic.   
  • Verify application for cross-site scripting & SQL Injection.   

These are some basic test scenarios that you can follow to get started with Penetration Testing. Aside, there are numerous advanced penetration methods that you can understand in different steps below and perform them either manually or using automation tools.   

Planning & Preparation  

Planning is the first method of penetration testing that you need to focus on to define the goals and objectives. And, make sure both the tester and the client can determine the goals to identify the vulnerability and enhance technical systems and organizational infrastructure security.   

Reconnaissance  

In this method, testers analyze the preliminary information, i.e., an IP address or IP address block, or they can demand for more information from the client, such as system descriptions and network plans. In short, you can understand the main objective of Reconnaissance is to allow the tester to understand the information of the systems in detail.   

Discovery 

In this step, one can use automated tools to scan target assets so that it becomes possible to discover vulnerabilities. And, the good thing is these automated tools have their own databases and so many features to obtain information about additional systems, servers, ports, and actual services which are operating live.   

Information & Risk Analysis   

As a pen tester, you can analyze and evaluate the collected information and get a huge understanding of defined goals in this phase. Also, you can examine the various factors that can become the reason for your system’s risks and get an estimation of time to eliminate the security flaw.  

Active Intrusion Attacks   

This step requires utmost care and helps you determine to what extent potential vulnerabilities are found in the discovery phase.   

Final Analysis   

This is the final step in which the assessment of various vulnerabilities is done, and the tester ensures to fix all issues so that it becomes possible to deliver the quality-made web application.   

Report Preparation   

The development of a report must begin with overall testing processes, followed by a vulnerability and risk analysis. In this method, you should prioritize the high risks and crucial loopholes, then move on to the lower risks and problems. Nonetheless, while documenting the report, you can follow the given steps:  

  • Make an overall summary of penetration testing.   
  • Get details for each step and collect the information during pen testing.   
  • Note down the risks and vulnerabilities that you discover in the system.  
  • Elaborate on how you clean and fix the system.   
  • Give additional suggestions to the client for future security. 

Author Bio: Kanika Vatsyayan is Vice-President – Delivery and Operations at BugRaptors who oversees all the quality control and assurance strategies for client engagements. She loves to share her knowledge with others through blogging. Being a voracious blogger, she published countless informative blogs to educate audience about automation and manual testing. 

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